Twitter is the world’s digital public square. What happens if it dies?
(CNN) - That question would have been mostly unthinkable just weeks ago, but a cascade of events precipitated by the company’s erratic new owner, Elon Musk, has thrown the future of the platform into uncertainty.
And if Twitter (TWTR) were to suddenly cease to exist, the consequences would be enormous, given how integral the platform is to global communications.
The platform has often been compared to a digital town square — and for good reason. It is much more than simply a social media website.
World leaders use Twitter to communicate, journalists use Twitter to newsgather, dissidents in repressive countries use Twitter to organize, celebrities and major brands use Twitter to make important announcements, and the public uses Twitter to often monitor all of it in real-time.
If the platform were to die off, or to become unusable because of instability issues, no single space would likely replace it.
“Twitter vs not Twitter isn’t a simple binary, particularly not for news journalism. The 24 hour global connectivity has changed almost everything about workflows in newsrooms and even for freelance journalists,” said Emily Bell, founding director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School, a series of tweets Friday. “What replaces it, or what Twitter becomes now with an owner expressly hostile to and ignorant of the business of daily reporting, is really unsure.”
Instead, communications would become fractured across multiple social media websites, leading to a seismic disruption and slowdown in the flow of information.
Some users would probably head to one of the Twitter clones.
One Twitter-like microblogging platform that has gained some traction in recent weeks is Mastodon. But that explosion in popularity is relative: Mastodon is still far smaller than Twitter in scale and lacks the usability for mass appeal to the public.
Most other Twitter clones have largely been designed to target conservatives who have for years, and usually baselessly, accused Twitter of harboring an anti-conservative bias. Those websites include former President Donald Trump’s Truth Social, Gettr, and others.
And, of course, social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and others are options.
But none of these apps seem destined to inherit all of Twitter’s users — or perhaps more importantly, become the central place for public conversation and debate as Twitter has been for years and years.
A US senator, for instance, expressed to CNN Thursday night — via Twitter direct messages — that they would miss the platform.
“My main concern is that I do think some people want to hear directly from me,” the senator said, “and it’s a very efficient way to curate a news feed.”
“So I’m just figuring out what comes next.”